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Breaking through the ‘space barrier’ from abstract perception to alive natural perception

July 22, 2014

This is a guest blog written by scientist and natural philosopher Dr. Alan Rayner.

Imagine yourself standing petrified on the concrete edge of a swimming pool, while being jostled by those next to you. Someone splashing about in the water shouts to you. ‘Come on in, the water’s lovely!’ But you’ve never experienced full immersion in water before and you’ve never been taught how to swim. How do you feel?

Our cultural and educational institutions teach us, from a young age, to perceive our selves and others as if we were separate, isolated objects, both set apart from one another and boxed in by rigid boundaries.

In order to feel secure, we mentally sever ourselves from each other and the creative wildness of the natural world by setting in place an imaginary hard line or ‘cut’ – what I call ‘the space barrier’ – that enforces profound social and psychological conflict and environmental destruction.

nature trees in trees

Recall Hamlet’s famous soliloquy and where it led him: ‘To be or not to be, that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, OR, to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them’.

Do we give our selves the space and time to stop to think carefully about why we impose these definitive limits on ourselves – as present or absent – and Nature – as a sea of troubles.

Ask yourself what kind of a boundary could actually cut the space within you away from the space around you without itself including space?

Imagine drawing a circle on a still sheet of paper. You can’t do this simply by applying pencil point to paper – all you would get is a ‘dot’, a stationary point. Instead, you have to move the pencil point around to produce the circle, while not making the pencil point so sharp and hard as to cut a hole in the paper. The circle is formed by a combination of continuous paper with continuous pencil movement. Now, bearing in mind that paper is, like water, a tangible substance that can be cut, not a limitless pool of intangible presence, like space, think how this could relate to the way natural forms arise, through the movement of a presence within and around space that cannot be cut.

We can dispense with our imaginary need to hard-line ‘things’ by recognising how natural space and boundaries actually are distinct but mutually inclusive presences. We can do this by appreciating:

  • Natural space as a presence everywhere that is not a substance but makes the existence of substance possible
  • Energy as continuous motion that locally in-forms space into bodily presence

When we think about it, every ‘thing’ or ‘body’ is 100 % space PLUS energy, not part space and part energy. That’s how Nature is, including human nature.

wales sea and sunsetNow I think a vital principle of life and love as mutually inclusive presences begins to emerge –

All natural form is the co-creation of continuously mobile, informative presence (energy) and continuous receptive presence (space).

This different perception frees us from divisive belief in a struggle for existence (‘to be’) against non-existence (‘not to be’), to an acceptance of living bodily boundaries continuously circulating and reconfiguring within a limitless sea of receptivity, not holding their own against a sea of troubles.

As William Wordsworth once declared:

‘In nature, everything is distinct, yet nothing is defined into absolute, independent singleness’.

Now I’d like to introduce an observation that brought out this radically different, natural perception of everything to me.

‘Mushrooms and toadstools’ are, in reality, no more ‘all there is’ to a fungus than an apple is all of an apple tree!



Behind the scenes of that outward appearance is an extraordinary, hidden production team that does all the hard work of gathering in the energy required to make it possible. This is known as the ‘mycelium’ , a collective organisation of microscopic, branching tubes, called ‘hyphae’, which grow from their tips in a radiating pattern.

In abundance it multiplies; in scarcity it conserves and redistributes what it already has.  Unlike our current, divisive social and economic systems, it does not borrow what it hasn’t got from a future that hasn’t come in order to gain a competitive advantage over its rivals!

Here is an important lesson I learned from Nature:

In Naturally Sustainable Organizations, Life is a gift of energy to be received, sustained and passed on in natural relay

Here death and degeneration are as vital to the ability of living organizations to locate, gather in, conserve and redistribute energy as their capacity to grow and network.progression3

This brings me to recognize that evolutionary diversification arises through a dynamic transformational process of natural inclusion of each in the other, NOT, as envisaged by Darwinian selection theory, through the competitive exclusion and extinction of one by another. Instead, evolutionary diversification is perceived as a fluid dynamic process of cumulative energetic transformation, over vastly differing scales from microcosm to macrocosm.

We can dispense with defining things into an abstract, unnatural order and learn to live in a more naturally attuned, passionate, compassionate and sustainable way.

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Living Beyond Illusion – are you up for crossing the threshold?

July 21, 2014

We live in challenging times; a world fast-filling with strife: wars, competition, struggle, debt, exploitation, inequality, degradation, etc. And, if the findings of world-leading scientists are to be acknowledged, time is not on our side.

There is much to be upbeat about and plenty of inspiring examples to point to of people in all walks of life striving for a better more sustainable future. And yet, much of the time, the solutions we come up with to our many pressing challenges tackle downstream effects while leaving the underlying causes gapping.  So often we apply solutions with the same mind-set that created the problems in the first place.


Is there an underlying source – an original corruption – that is the root of these ever-widening and deepening challenges?

I believe there is.

The ’original corruption’ is a way of attending that completely identifies with the ‘I’ or ego and its forms – physical, thought, emotion. This egotistic way of attending obscures reality in a way that sees our selves as separate from each other and from our neighbourhood. It projects a mental abstraction of ‘self’ as separate from our true nature, our soulful receptive presence which we were born with and is innate throughout Nature.

The egotistic self is a re-presentation, a mental abstraction that we develop as a tool for interacting with the world. It is like a split personality in that it separates a sense of ‘I’ from our true nature and then projects this ‘I’ as the mental image of ourselves as a defined, discrete ‘I’ dislocated from the world around us. Whereas a sense of ‘I’ is important for our personal development, analysis and planning, it becomes potentially abusive when consolidated into a projection that subsumes how we naturally are. The tragedy comes about not because of the existence of the ego but when ‘assistant’ considers it to be ‘master’ and so the fragmented self becomes the dominant way of attending and our true Self suppressed.

human nature silence the mind

This mental abstraction brings anxiousness, defensiveness, competitiveness and fearfulness which encourages a modus operandi of ‘having’, ‘wanting’, ‘owning’, ‘consuming’, ‘exploiting’. Its hallmarks are impatience with the present moment, nervousness, boredom, resentment, jealousy, discontentment, vanity, resentment, etc.. We can notice these surfacing within us often quite regularly, especially in the humdrum distractive environment of today’s consumerist culture.

It is what Einstein called an optical illusion of consciousness – the ego’s mis-representation of reality that fast becomes an all-consuming masquerade that separates ‘I’ from the ground of our being. This is the root cause of our unsustainable socio-economic model: a sense of separation and dis-ease rather than inclusion and attunement. According to the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, this illusion of separation is the ‘original sin’ as it is what creates all the problems we face in the world today.

So how do we go about rectifying this root cause?

‘To end the misery that has afflicted the human condition for thousands of years, you have to start with yourself and take responsibility for your inner state at any given moment. That means now.’  Eckhart Tolle

Many people increasingly speak of ‘presencing’ as a way to go beyond the confines of ego-consciousness. For instance, Peter Senge of MIT has explored how presencing is vital for the future of leadership and has set up a Presencing Institute focused at helping future business leaders. While there are many tools and techniques to help facilitate a state of presencing into our activities – for instance Otto Scharmer’s Theory-U – the essence of presencing is feeling the aliveness of the present moment beyond the ego’s sense of separation.  This can be experienced by feeling our inner body; feeling the awareness beyond thought by shifting our attention from external form to aliveness inside us, the tiggling of energy in our fingers and toes, for instance, or the ebbing and flowing sensation of our breath, or the tides of love available to us as we authentically listen to each other, for instance. This ‘bodymind’ awareness helps ground us in the present moment.

nature sust3

To presence is to ‘let be’ without categorising or analysing what arises in our midst – easier said than done! Learning to let go of our mental abstractions and ego-identifications is not a plain sail yet it is vital for our evolution at this critical time. None but ourselves can undo our sense of separation from source. Now is the time to feel the aliveness of Nature, our true nature, the anima, the intense mystery and with it a humbling responsibility of co-creativity – alert, participatory awareness.

Ancient practices like T’ai Chi and yoga can help here as can meditation, mindfulness techniques, heart-based awareness, etc. to assist the quietening of mental chatter. This may allow the ego to loosen its incessant grip and permeate more readily with the ground of our being in our midst – this is to attune with Nature, Akasha, Tao, God – life beyond original sin. This is the heart and soul of living sustainably. It may feel like a struggle to begin with, especially while our minds are racing with the stress and busyness of today’s world – the list of things-to-do, twitter messages, meetings, rush hour traffic, bills to pay, phone calls to take, and so forth.  Yet, if we wish to get to the root of our problems, we cannot avoid doing this most fundamental of undertakings – bringing our awareness into the unadulterated present moment. Emancipation from mental slavery, as Bob Marley would say, starts with our selves freeing our minds.


What is now called for is a new cosmology, a new story, which re-visions our inter-relations; this new logic re-cognises the vivid, lucid, aliveness of our inter-relational selves within Nature.  In re-awakening to the all-pervasive presence of Nature flowing within and all around us, we open up to the oceanic aliveness in our midst. We are all of soul – anima – animate and conscious. Consciousness is flowing through all we do – tuning into this aliveness is the beginning of our sustainable future.  It has direct benefit to our selves, our interrelations with each other and our engagement with the wider fabric of life – we become conscious co-creators rather than carcinogenic parasites.

Small moments of true aliveness come through being present in what we are attending to whether it be completely listening to the other person, freed from the desire to cut across or assert our view or prepare a response or say ‘I’. It is simple, yet not always easy, to open up the ground of our being.  This is what makes us Homo Sapiens live up to our name of ‘wise humans’, this is the humility that grounds us as we place new steps of change.

As Mother Teresa says’ ‘we can not do great things, only small things with great love’.


Charles Eisentein speaks of any action – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – that transforms the experience of separation into one of inclusion is a step towards the new story, whether acts of generosity, support, giving, encouragement, forgiveness, love. Anything that violates the old story of separateness opens up the new story through us and our ways of relating to others. We are the portals of the new paradigm, this is our destiny, and there is no time like the present. The more we open up to life the more we re-cognise that the solutions are all around and within us. Our own worst enemy becomes a true friend.

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View a presentation on ‘A Radical Review of Reality’ here

Business – The Way Nature Intended

July 14, 2014


Good business sense is creative, fun and opportunistic.  Good business sense improves the individual, the organisation and the wider stakeholder community and environment. The daunting challenge of becoming a Firm of the Future can become an exciting opportunity; a path that once found becomes the only right path to follow.

bright future ahead sign

There is indeed a significant gap between Natural Business and our current prevailing business practices, rooted in our scientific and cultural heritage as well as in our human nature which gives us the freedom to break the rules of Nature and learn (or not) accordingly. In that regard, ‘Nature’s Business Principles’ may appear idealistic but is there an alternative?

1 business nature

Bio-mimicry as a school of thought suggests that we can learn to play by the guidelines of Nature, which offer a very rich source of inspiration to challenge our current unsustainable business practices and invent new strategies.  ‘Nature’s Business Principles’ are universal but there is room for specific individual behaviours and indeed we as individuals and business people need to invent our future in a great variety of ways. We ought to accept that we are stepping into the unknown and let go of the need to find an answer or singular goal to achieve. We should rather re-cognise that we are on a journey not towards the optimal organisation or business model, but towards the understanding of business as dynamic, emergent, constantly interacting, adapting and morphing to maintain right-balance and right-relationship in an ever- changing environment.


‘The new opportunity is to emulate nature, because in so doing, we bring our actions in alignment with our potential. We begin to get the design right.  And as we get the design right, we create pathways through which new capacities, new innovations, new value can flow.’  - Tachi Kiuchi and Bill Shireman

In these challenging yet pivotal times for business and humanity, we must realize that to become truly sustainable, human and business life has to become scientifically inspired, emotionally connected and spiritually entwined with Nature and Gaia. Nature and business (as with Nature and humanity within it) must be symbiotic and operate in mutualism for there to be anything resembling a successful outcome.  The sooner business realizes the opportunities that come with being attuned with and inspired by Nature, the better for humanity and for all species.

 ‘Gratitude for the bounty of Nature and gratitude for the opportunities coming our way to fulfill our highest potential as human beings by learning to live in abundant harmony with her’  – Victor Lebow

It Starts With Authenticity

The journey towards a Firm of The Future is as much about individual transformation as it is about organisational transformation, each being interconnected with the other.  No man is an island and no organisation can thrive disconnected.  In the same regard, this personal and organisational transformation is about being authentic and true to your values and value; the authentic self and the authentic organisation go hand-in-hand.  Finding our authentic self and organisation is transformative and emergent – life in its beautiful way, is dynamic, continually giving us opportunities to learn and grow.  It is our choice, our perception and state of mind that decides whether we become burdened by fear, anger, guilt and laziness, or whether we take each step with positivity, faith, hope and courage.

LeonardoThis is the same for the high-performing team, the community of stakeholders, the organisation and its wider business ecosystem.  Be the change you wish to see – take ownership and responsibility for how you want to be, act and provide value in the world as best you can.  Only then can real progress towards a Firm of The Future be made; an organisation that seeks not just to limit its negativity on society and the environment but an organisation that gives and in return receives, that provides net-positive value enhancement to all its stakeholders and wider business environment.  This is the future, and it is bright. Natural Business – The way life intended.

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Rethinking business strategy for a sustainable future

July 11, 2014

A new logic is now required in the formulation of business strategies, a logic that recognizes the holistic and dynamic environment organisations are required to operate in.

This is a guest article written by Maria Moraes Robinson, a consultant, lecturer and co-author of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Strategy Management: Experiences and Lessons of Brazilian Companies and The Strategic Activist.


Each year thousands of organisations engage in a strategic planning process. This includes adapting the existing strategy and rethinking fundamental assumptions, a process which involves many people from various departments and levels of leadership. Traditionally, the approach involves a study of future scenarios, an assessment of external and internal environments, a competitor analysis, a risk assessment, a SWOT analysis, and the definition of strategic guidelines for future project decision making.

These strategy practices were developed within the old logic of yesterday’s paradigm where the world is viewed as linear, hierarchic, predictable and controllable. For the volatile world organisations now face, we find such a logic becoming less and less effective. And so this annual ritual is now being questioned. Because of an increasingly complex, and at times chaotic, reality few organisations are managing to achieve their strategic goals that yesterday’s methodologies “guarantee”. Yet the problem is not solely with the outdated methodologies, but also with the way in which decision-makers make sense of reality. While decision-makers of yesterday were comfortable with the linear, atomised and fragmented approach to the definition and updating of their strategy, they now have to consider a level of dynamism which this linear affair largely overlooks.

There is now, therefore, an urgent need for a new way to develop the planning and management of strategy which is more in tune with reality. In our book Holonomics: Business where People and Planet Matter we discuss the need for an expansion of consciousness in business which we term ‘holonomic thinking’. If we can somehow expand our way of seeing, we are then given a choice as to how we see and understand complex scenarios. Do we see it in terms of its parts, which of course we often need to, or can we see the interrelations too? This is not the same thing as seeing the whole system, where we simply try to increase the number of parts or dimensions that we wish to model, describe, or understand in order to get a better picture of the system.

The development of strategy therefore not only requires leaders to apply systems thinking, but also to understand complex scenarios, and for this they need to make sense of reality at the deepest level. Humility becomes a powerful characteristic of leaders, since by softening the ego’s incessancy for control and linearity leaders can jettison prejudices and preconditions that no longer apply to the new horizons. Not only does prediction become more and more difficult across ever shrinking planning cycles, but sense-making in relation to understanding future scenarios becomes ever more not just a collective process, but a process of co-creation.

Holonomic thinking

A new mental operating system is now necessary to deal with these new challenges. Holonomic thinking can play a key role in the shift of consciousness of business leaders and decision makers by empowering them with a dynamic way of seeing the world. Those businesses and organisations which are successful in the future will be the ones who understand that the difficulty with predicting scenarios in a complex world is actually an invitation to co-create these future scenarios.

Holonomic thinking is based on the dynamic and organic systems we find in Nature as well as being deeply rooted with the foundations of five universal human values – peace, truth, love, non-violence and right action. We are now beginning to see the emergence of enlightened organisations which understand the value of business strategies which acknowledge the preservation and evolution of life.

Planning, managing and redesigning the strategy becomes a natural process which is assimilated into the day-by-day activities of the organisation, which itself is conscious of its role in a dynamic co-created future. Co-creating future scenarios now becomes innovation which itself becomes sustainability and the life force of the organisation.

simon Jung's mandala

Maria Moraes Robinson is an economist and consultant in strategy, change management and the Balanced Scorecard methodology. Her current work is focused on developing innovative new business courses which integrate the teachings and philosophy of Schumacher College, human values in education, and insights from complexity science with business strategy, change management, process and organisational redesign.

The Future of Leadership

July 4, 2014

Is it possible to lead and be led at the same time? Might the leader be the quietest person in the room; invisible, even?  What happens when there are no pre-agreed rules of engagement amongst those that you are leading? Does chaos or harmony ensue?

This is a guest blog written by  James Allen of Olab

A lot is being written about new kinds of leaders and new ways of leading and I would like to share with you my experience drawn from the Art of Hosting (AoH) network, which I joined after participating in one of their ‘encounters’ in Brazil. As many organizations are grappling with establishing less hierarchical management structures, the AoH approach suggests that it is those leaders who are able to listen to and draw upon different perspectives, and to strengthen connections between people and organizations through dialogue that will be able to bring out the best in those whom they are leading.


Brazil’s 14th AoH get-together was a five-day long meeting, set in beautiful woodlands not far from Sao Paulo in 2013. It is called an ‘encounter’, rather than a course, because learning takes place through active participation in a sequence of workshops that draw on different group dynamics, such as World Café and Collective Story Harvesting. Participants are encouraged to take the reins and lead different exercises, with the aim of drawing on and harvesting collective intelligence, i.e. the knowledge and wisdom of the whole group, rather than a chain of individual perspectives.

In this way, participants act as volunteer facilitators, responsible for leading each session, with the aim of ‘hosting and harvesting meaningful conversations’. For a conversation to be meaningful, participants must seek to listen actively and speak with intent. As such, the starting point is the individual’s relationship with herself. Silence and meditation techniques form part of the AoH toolkit, since the ability to listen well, both to yourself and to others, is a sine qua non of good leadership.

The relationship between the individual and the other within the group is first established through the most ancient form of dialogue, the circle. In the center of the circle, rather than a fire, is the group’s ‘purpose’, the issue or question that the collective is burning to address. Much time is spent on the wording and structure of that question so that the conversations and debates that follow are coherent and meaningful. Here the host plays an important role in helping to shape a powerful question, one that is both inspirational and practical.

What often follows in many of the participatory technologies shared in AoH are break-out groups of between four and six people. A group with that number of participants is large enough and sufficiently diverse to draw on a multitude of perspectives, without being so big that it becomes unwieldy. It is a model that reflects what is happening in many leading companies where self-organizing pods or cells are formed in order to deliver specific processes or results: Google (“…projects always start with a small group of people that make traction” – Larry Page) and Kyocera’s Amoeba management system are two such examples.

horse 2

Disagreement within these groups is seen as healthy, indeed is actively encouraged. As management guru Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, the best decisions are based “on the clash of conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgments. The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement”. In fact, conclusions and good decisions (‘convergence’) can and should only occur after ‘divergence’ or discordance, where doubts are addressed through pertinent questioning. A good host knows how to needle and question, and embraces difference as part of a collective decision making process.

As such, to lead in this context means to accept the chaos that arises when different people bring their opinions to the table. At its purest form, a collective decision making process can be almost anarchic, in which the group or groups organize themselves and people fit in and contribute in the way they best see fit. Physicist David Bohm’s Theory of Dialogue proposes that a meaningful dialogue of enquiry should have no rules, no agenda and the participants should not be chosen but should put themselves forward. Many of these ideas permeate the AoH encounters: the ‘Law of Two Feet’ for example says that if ‘at any moment during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go somewhere else’.


This approach to learning – free, open, self-run – can be wonderfully enriching, but also unnerving. Participants must accept a new way of learning that involves observing, experiencing, embracing difference and acknowledging mistakes. In this way, the AoH encounter also represents an emotional journey where anxieties can rise to the surface. In our group, a number of participants – perhaps half a dozen, mainly those working at larger corporations – had come with their own expectations of what they would take away, and by the half-way stage of the week-long encounter, began to question these precepts: “where was the manual?”, they asked; “why hadn´t the information been systematized?”. At one stage, these anxieties threatened to boil over into outright revolt. But on this occasion, our hosts stood firm, recognizing and accepting these concerns, but not veering from their vision that it was up to each participant to contribute and to take from the encounter what they would.

It is here that the art of leadership really comes in to play, as the host perseveres through those periods of chaos that certain participatory methodologies such as Open Space have built into their DNA. In these moments an effective leader will seek to operate in the background as much as possible, an almost invisible actor whose presence does not influence the way the group choses to operate; but she must be paying complete attention at all times, observing not just what is said, but what is done and how it is done – sensing the group’s energy. It is up to her to know when she must play the role of the chalice bearer, embracing, soothing and calming, and when is the time to intervene as the blade-wielding warrior, nudging, cajoling and, above all, questioning in order that the group might move forward.


Successful leaders are therefore those that are able to harness and catalyze collective knowledge and different talents around a shared purpose, weaving solutions that recognize and value the voices and opinions of the individual and of the collective. Where, previously, we were schooled in Isaac Newton’s mantra that it was possible to find singular answers to our problems through objective analysis, now we must accept a more inclusive and dynamic view of the world, which accepts that there is no one single, objective ‘solution’ or answer and that the observer herself influences the response as a direct result of her expectations or intentions.

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The Need For Metaphor: A Shift from Machine to Nature

June 30, 2014

The metaphorical use of words is vitally important for the transformational times we live in.  Why? Why can’t the explicit meaning of words themselves suffice?

biomimetic leadership 1

Metaphor originates from the Greek word meta meaning ‘across’ and pherein meaning ‘to carry’. Metaphor allows us to bring forth or carry over a deeper context which words on face-value can lack. As the writer Iain McGilchrist has explored, metaphor embodies thought and places it in a living context.

‘Metaphoric thinking is fundamental to our understanding of the world, because it is the only way in which understanding can reach outside the system of signs to life itself. It is what links language to life.’ – Iain McGilchrist

Let’s take a step back and explore the advent of the written word as a ‘system of signs of life’ in order to understand its limitations which metaphor may help transcend.

Originally language was not a code of representation but rather a generative creativity where the act of speaking was a participatory embodiment of the speaker within the lived-in environment; content as a participatory expression within context.

nature trees in trees

The phonemic singing of language still evident in many indigenous cultures today seems to have its roots in music. The pictographic ideograms and hieroglyphics found in Egypt some 3,000 BC, in China some 1,500 BC and in Mesoamerica around 600 BC enabled language to shift from purely oral to written and with that came a shift in sensory perception away from voice tones and body gestures very much within the sensory realm of the body to images.

Through syllables, concepts are represented in a way that the metaphoric essence of what is being expressed is relayed. These images portrayed the lived-in environment yet became more abstract in forming pictographic puns which invoked images that sound like the written explanation; the phonetic sound morphed into the written symbol. The sounds became transcribed as abstract content rather than the image of the content within its contextual meaning. The Hebrews and Phoenicians adopted the alphabet and in time so did the ancient Greeks.

The advent of the alphabet, hand-in-hand with the rise of rational logic as a tool to define reality, had a profound impact on our way of attending to life. No longer did images relate to their animate context, the words had become abstract re-presentations. The alphabet granted a new autonomy and permanence to abstract concepts enabling us to define things in an unchanging objectified way. This timeless yet abstract quality of the written word gives a sense of independence from the ever-changing corporeal realm. Yet, as Ralph Waldo Emerson explains when discussing words, ‘They cannot cover the dimensions of what is truth. They break, chop, and impoverish it.’

Metaphor helps re-immerse the content within its lived-in context, an abstract perspective within its deeper real-life context; re-embodying and so rejuvenating the impoverishing effect Emerson speaks of.

Eco-literacy specialist and world-renowned scientist Fritjof Capra speaks of the need for a new metaphor: a transformation from the metaphor of the machine to the metaphor of life – the network and self-organising system. Likewise, in business transformation, organisational change, management and leadership, we need new metaphors which deepen our engagement with reality beyond the metaphors of yesterday’s logic – those of the mechanistic, hierarchic, command-and-control, Neo-Darwinist organisation.

Nature as a word, Nature as a metaphor, Nature as so much more can inspire new ways of operating in helping us reach beyond restrictive mind-sets in understanding the depths of the world far beyond the limitations of the current paradigm. For instance, ‘the forest floor’ is a metaphor the Association of Sustainability Practitioners is developing to encompass a cultural way of collaborating, engaging and embodying sustainability service provision. Business ‘ecosystem’ is another metaphor increasingly being used to help shift the mind-set of ‘supply chain management’ and ‘customer relationship management’ of old into a way of inter-relating that fosters a wide variety of diverse stakeholders where the web of relations are understood beyond the point-to-point ‘chains’ of old. ‘Soil’ can be a metaphor for helping convey the importance of a fertile organisational culture, for instance where ‘failure becomes the compost for success’ and where creativity, innovation, growth, networking, re-configuration and release are all valued.


Nature as metaphor in business and beyond can powerfully help us see beyond the confines of yesterday’s logic while also opening us up to the Nature deep within and all around us. After all, true sustainability means being in harmony with Nature, anything less is, ultimately, unsustainable.


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View a short video clip on business inspired by nature here

Natural Business – True Sustainability

June 27, 2014

spiral dynamics4

Our understanding of nature has evolved over the past few decades, from viewing Nature as little more than a struggle for survival through dog-eat-dog competition to one of networking, feedback loops, behavioural qualities and interdependencies within and throughout ecosystems. Nature adapts within limits and creates conditions conducive to life. Likewise, in human systems, the old logic of Social Darwinism underpinning hyper-competitive business practices and management approaches is giving way to a deeper understanding of what drives the individual, organisation and ecosystem in its ability to sense, respond, adapt and evolve. Yesterday’s logic is of top-down, hierarchic, command-and-control, risk-adverse, competition-oriented, control-based thinking. It is a mechanistic worldview based on reductionist logic that fragments reality into abstract definitions, silo’s and objects to be quantified, measured, controlled and then maximised, while largely over-looking the interrelated, fluid, connective, collaborative, participatory nature of Nature.


In drawing inspiration from Nature, we may step beyond our narrowed-down view of life and re-cognise the intrinsic patterns and reciprocal relations in our midst. These patterns can often seem confusing or complex for our reductionist mind, yet for our intuitive logic they are quite natural to cohere with – we are, after all, expressions of Nature. Such patterns and flows are, by their nature, regenerative and sustainable.  In applying this inherent logic of life, we no longer need to superficially bolt-on sustainability initiatives to unsustainable modus operandi. In going with the flow of Nature, we re-design for resilience, ensuing sustainability – in all sense of the word – is ingrained in how we operate and innovate.


Natural business creates the conditions conducive to collaboration, adaptability, creativity, local attunement, multi-functionality and responsiveness; hence, enhancing the evolution of organisations from rigid, tightly managed hierarchies to dynamic living organisations that thrive and flourish within ever-changing business, socio-economic and environmental conditions.

While, on the surface, diverse, interconnected, open, emergent organisations may appear more chaotic and difficult to manage, they are vibrant places for people to become self-empowered and to inspire others – self-managing through mutual understanding of correct behaviours rooted in core values and clarity of purpose. It is this shared value set of core ethics – an ethos – that ensures self-empowered diversity naturally emerges towards delivering the value creation goals of the organisation, while maintaining flexibility, adaptability and sense of purpose.


Increasingly, as the organisation is required to become more emergent, so leadership is more about empowering, empathising and encouraging interconnections, innovation and an active network of feedback. As organisations and business ecosystems become more self-organising and self-empowering, the working environment and culture becomes more emotionally and mentally healthy, where business goals are met without sacrificing personal values and integrity. Quite the contrary, in fact: work acts to reinforce personal integrity in providing a rich emergent experience for individual and collective learning and ethical growth.


The role of leadership is to actively participate in enabling and facilitating local change, by encouraging effective communications through clarity of understanding of how to behave, act and interact. Each of us plays our part in leadership-of-the-future by helping others to co-create towards positive outcomes. Here, future outcomes are beyond pre-definition: it is the co-learning journey rather than the pre-defined destination that brings transformative value to the organisation and wider ecosystem of partners involved; real benefits beyond ‘doing less bad’. This approach to business walks-its-own-talk by embracing a living, regenerative, empowering, co-creative, ecological way of being and doing which is aligned with our authentic human nature and deeper Nature.

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View a short video clip on business inspired by nature here


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